Altoona City Council on Tuesday introduced ordinances that should eventually establish the city's Act 47 recovery plan, a budget and tax hikes for 2013 that depend on that plan.
It introduced the recovery plan in hopes of major changes in accord with 27 pages of critical comments sent Tuesday to the consulting firm that wrote the plan.
Those changes include a variety of items, none more important to council that elimination of a recommendation for the fire department to take over ambulance services in the city from AMED.
The consulting firm and the state Department of Community and Economic Development that hired the firm to do the plan for Altoona will be at the Downtown Devorris Center at 5:30 p.m. today to hold a required public hearing on the plan.
Council introduced the budget and taxing ordinances in expectation they won't need to change much, because in their current form, they'll allow the city to make ends meet next year.
An earned income tax hike of 0.25 percentage points for residents and 0.15 percentage points for nonresidents are the key to overcoming the projected overall deficit of $515,000 projected in the recovery plan in 2013.
Those EIT hikes will generate an additional $2.1 million.
The city can contemplate those EIT hikes because Act 47 releases the state cap on that tax.
A debt-service millage hike of 1.07 mills - unlike the earned income increase - doesn't depend on Act 47, as that segment of property tax is not capped by the state. The hike reflects the recovery plan proposal for a round of borrowing for capital projects.
Council actually wants to increase that round of capital borrowing by including - as it has for years - police cars and other short-lived items.
It has asked for that increase in its comments on the plan, which recommends paying for those items from the general fund.
The city still can't afford that, despite the financial relief the plan will afford, according to city officials.
Reached by phone Tuesday, consultant team leader John Espenshade seemed unfazed by the volume of critical comments from city officials.
"We appreciate the comments," he said. "Typically, we take the comments seriously."
Insofar as the team finds value in them, they will help in plan revisions, he said.
However, comments are often contradictory of one another, and the team will need to look at them in the context of the whole plan, he said.
Those comments will not be incorporated into the plan that will be up for comment today from officials, staff, employees, businesses and the general public.
The firm has until Dec. 7 to submit a revised plan, if revisions are necessary.
Mayor Bill Schirf believes revisions will be necessary, but he doesn't necessarily think the consultant will adopt all the counter-recommendations from the city.
"There's going to need to be give and take," he said.
Schirf hopes the criticisms don't get in the way of a good relationship between the team and the city.
"We want to develop a bond of trust," he said.
The public airing of the criticisms - some of which simply reflected errors by the consultant regarding the city's setup - was unfortunate, Schirf said.
They could have been avoided if the team had conducted a prior review of the plan with staff - if necessary after getting participating staffers to sign a confidentiality agreement, to prevent premature leaking of the plan, he said.
The city ought to share that observation with DCED to improve the Act 47 process for other municipalities, Schirf said, echoing an observation made Monday by Councilman Bruce Kelley.